Aratrik Dev Varman’s commitment to tradition and his ability to strike a chord with modernity is visible in his creations. Based in Ahmedabad, he finds inspiration in varied sources and sees fashion through an interdisciplinary frame. From making films to venturing into interiors, he has explored art and design via different narratives.
Educated at National Institute of Design, he credits Ahmedabad to be an ‘exciting place for design’. Early in his college days, he was exposed to a myriad of Indian textiles and crafts. Thereafter, he was selected for a student exchange program to attend l’École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (L’ENSAD), Paris. If Gujrat nurtured his ability to experiment with textiles, Paris provided him with a bravado to experiment.
Want to know more about the designer who does it all. Read on.
1. Tell us about your formative years? What are your earliest memories which prompted you towards designing?
Aratrik: I grew up in Chennai and Kolkata, till I moved to Ahmedabad to pursue a degree in textile design at the National Institute of Design. I can’t think of anything in particular that prompted me towards design except for the fact that I enjoyed drawing and fashion from a fairly early age. I began following the fashion movement in India from its formative years, through the work of designers like Rohit Khosla, photographers like Prabuddha Dasgupta, models like Mehr Jessia and
Nayanika Chatterjee.. that’s how it started. There onwards, it was an exposure to Indian textiles and crafts, and a two-year course in clothing design in Paris at Des Arts Decoratifs, which have trained me in what I do.
2. How has the city of Ahmedabad influenced your body of work?
Aratrik: Ahmedabad is an exciting place for design because it has a unique culture that embraces both mass production as well as handcrafted artisanal techniques. This is most evident in its architecture and its textiles. The city, despite its decorative traditions, has made space for minimalism, as seen in the work of Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier. I think of Ahmedabad as one large studio, that I keep rediscovering for inspiration. Many of its crafts are alive, and it’s been a rich journey to work with so many people in their homes.
3. Working with rural Indian crafts and embroidery has been your forte. How do you balance that element of tradition and modernity?
Aratrik: By listening to both sides of the story! Modern life has its own demands that must be met and celebrated. We do want more women at the workplace, breaking down of gender stereotypes and less waste. I don’t see that necessarily as being in opposition to tradition. But it’s fun to question tradition, and take from it lessons that are relevant today. In design, there are plenty of such lessons, and the one I look to most is craftsmanship. Every tradition celebrates fine craftsmanship as a value that holds people together.
4. Your approach towards fashion is multi-disciplinary. How do you incorporate different elements of design in your work?
Aratrik: One of the most important things about the Bauhaus methodology that we were schooled in at NID was that the principles of design are universal and that once imbibed, you could apply them to various disciplines. I think the key is to identify your strengths and then collaborate with people who share your vision. This approach lets me do new things at work. I’ve recently made a 25-minute film called “Notes from a craftsman” documenting the daily lives of craftspeople in Ahmedabad. We’re designing a new series of wallpaper inspired by tropical gardens. There’s a cafe on the horizon that will bring healthy food from different Indian regions to Ahmedabad. And it all draws from fashion. I don’t think the source is any different.
5. You started your interiors line in 2013. How did the idea of merging it with fashion come about?
Aratrik: The interiors line was never meant to be exclusive to itself and different from the fashion line! The whole idea was to do a 360. The idea started with a series of large black and white prints called “7
Indian Trees”, which I showed at BoConcept, a Danish furniture design store. And based on the feedback I received from the exhibition, I proceeded to flesh out a line of clothing, accessories and home furnishings.
6. Tell us about a few people who have inspired you.
Aratrik: I go through phases where I research a public figure to see how their private lives have shaped the contributions they have made to society. In almost every case, I’m inspired by their hard work and grit, and not just their talent. For example, right now, I’ve been following the life of a Russian ballet dancer called Sergei Polunin who has an incredible story. Then there are all the not so public figures whose stories never get heard, but who one knows personally. They are inspiring as well.